WASHINGTON (AP) — Daniel Ellsberg, who copied and released documents revealing secret details of U.S. strategy in the Vietnam War and became known as the “Pentagon Papers,” has announced that he has terminal cancer and has months to live.
Ellsberg posted on his Facebook page Thursday that doctors diagnosed the 91-year-old man with inoperable pancreatic cancer on Feb. 17 after a CT scan and MRI.
Doctors gave him three to six months to live, he said.
Ellsberg said he has decided not to undergo chemotherapy and plans to accept hospice care if needed.
Documents in the Pentagon Papers examined the decisions and strategies of the Vietnam War in great detail. They described how US involvement had been steadily increased by political leaders and senior military leaders who were overconfident about US prospects and deceptive achievements against North Vietnam.
Ellsberg, a former Defense Department consultant, gave the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a reporter who broke the story for The New York Times in June 1971. Sheehan died in 2021.
Sheehan smuggled the documents out of the Massachusetts apartment where Ellsberg had hidden them and illegally copied thousands of pages and took them to the Times.
President Richard Nixon’s administration obtained an injunction on the grounds of national security, and publication was halted. The action sparked a heated First Amendment debate that quickly reached the Supreme Court. On June 30, 1971, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of authorizing publication, and the Times and The Washington Post resumed publication of the material. The coverage won a Times Pulitzer Prize for community service.
The Nixon administration tried to discredit Ellsberg after the documents were released. Some of Nixon’s aides arranged to break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in Beverly Hills to find information to discredit him.
Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy, and violating the Espionage Act, but his case was dismissed when evidence of government-ordered wiretapping and hacking emerged.
Ellsberg said in a Facebook post that he feels “lucky and grateful” for his life.
“When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to believe that I would spend the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, however unlikely that seemed (and was),” he wrote.
“Nevertheless, in the end, this action — in a way that I could not have foreseen, because of Nixon’s illegal responses — did have the effect of shortening the war,” he wrote.